Yellowstone’s Volcano Information
It is the mixture of wildness and serenity that brings thousands of visitors to Yellowstone National Park year after year. But under the feet of the free-roaming wildlife, hikers, sightseers, picnickers and campers lies a deadly instability that has the potential to cause mass destruction and the extinction of life on Earth. According to UnMuseum.org, just four miles below the gorgeous landscapes of Yellowstone lies the magma chamber of a sleeping supervolcano that is approximately 40 miles wide, one that presents an imminent threat to life as we know it.
The term “supervolcano” refers to volcanoes that have had large scale eruptions in the past. Supervolcanoes are not like ordinary volcanoes that form a hole in the earth when pressure builds; erupt with magma, spew lava and form a cone-shaped mountain peak. Supervolcanoes have no mountain peak, and no point of origin that marks eruption. They essentially continue to build up magma (molten rock) and pressure under the Earth’s crust until they can no longer be contained.
Scientists estimate that the last eruption at Yellowstone was a small scale, rhyolitic (slow moving and silica based) episode which happened approximately 70 thousand years ago. However, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports that approximately 640 thousand years ago, the supervolcano of Yellowstone erupted on a much larger scale forming a massive crater. But the largest eruption that took place in Yellowstone history happened close to two million years ago; forming an enormous crater comparable in size to the state of Rhode Island.
The crater that was formed by the Yellowstone eruptions is referred to as a caldera. Greg Brown of the Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, explains that the caldera was formed when the supervolcano erupted and the earth around it collapsed. As more and more magma was spewed from the supervolcano, the more the earth surrounding it sunk; causing a caldera 24 by 47 miles in circumference. The silica rock that covered the caldera was eventually transformed into a hardy green landscape of lodgepole pines, fire-weed and pine grasses. The landscape was further enhanced by the development of breathtaking waterfalls, streams, lakes and wildlife.
Hot Springs, Fumaroles and Mud Pots
Yellowstone Association.org reveals that the supervolcano that lies below the park is responsible for the geothermal (earth heated) hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots that are located throughout Yellowstone National Park. The hot springs that rest above the supervolcano of Yellowstone contain bacteria, fungus and algae. They are extremely hot and unsafe for swimming, and visitors are urged to refrain from getting too close because the ground can be unstable. The mud pots are boiling pools of volcanic ash, earth and iron with a density that changes with the seasons. Fumaroles are vents that come out of the earth that emit steam and gases. They are a result of boiling groundwater that is so hot that it evaporates before it ever gets to the surface.
A geyser is a geological feature of Yellowstone National Park that is directly related to the supervolcanic activity underneath the earth. When it rains or snows, the water soaks into the earth and becomes heated at an incredibly high temperature that can peak at about 400 degrees F. Geology.com explains that the underground pressure causes the boiling water to rise above any new groundwater that accumulates; forcing it back to the surface to erupt in a tremendous burst of hot water and steam. Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in Yellowstone National Park but, contrary to popular belief, not the tallest geyser. The Steamboat geyser has Old Faithful beat, dispensing approximately 100 thousand gallons of water per eruption compared to Old Faithful’s estimated 8,400-gallon eruptions.
A full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano would cause nothing less than wide-scale destruction. The national park that stands today would become non-existent, along with all of the residential communities that lie on the outskirts of the park. The Discovery Channel explains that the force of the supervolcano would spew dangerous ash, containing minute glass-like particles, along the West Coast and the entire Midwest region of the United States. A Yellowstone eruption would also affect the weather, causing worldwide weather changes that would fill the air with dust and toxic gases. The effect on humans would be catastrophic, and millions would succumb to the environmental disaster.